With Aloha Stadium’s redevelopment years away, UH green lights lower field expansion

The Board approved a plan that would relocate track and Field events, and increase the Complex's seating capacity to 17,000.
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 6:39 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 19, 2022 at 12:52 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With just over a week until the start of football season, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted Thursday to expand the Ching Athletics complex next year.

The Board approved a plan that would relocate track and field events and increase the complex’s seating capacity to 17,000 — critical in both securing revenue for the athletic department and the football team’s status as an NCAA division one program.

“For me the question is do we want D1 football or not?” asked BOR Vice-Chair Alapaki Nahale-a during the meeting. “It’s clear to me the state not only wants, but expects D1 football.”

That sentiment set the tone at the meeting as the UH regents discussed the future of the Rainbow Warrior football program.

An NCAA rule that requires D1 programs to have an average of 15,000 spectators for home games is adding to the urgency. The proposal increases the current Ching Complex capacity from 9,000 to 17,000.

“They’ve already proved that they can do it with the 9,000 seats, they will do it with the 17,000,” said former governor Neil Abercrombie in response to the board action. “They’ll be ready by the time Stanford comes here for that game next year.”

With just over a week till the start of football season, the University of Hawaii Board of...
With just over a week till the start of football season, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted Thursday to expand the Ching Athletics complex next year.(University of Hawaii)

The plans also gained momentum after it became clear that the new Aloha Stadium Entertainment District is still years away.

“Do we want to control our destiny or do we want to leave this in the hands of the state and hope for the best?” said UH president David Lassner. “It may well come out great soon, but the history isn’t positive for prompt decisions and prompt action.”

The New Aloha Stadium was supposed to be ready by fall of next year, but that’s now when demolition of the current 50,000-seat facility and construction of its replacement are set to begin.

“We need to reconsider the whole business of whether we want to have this Colosseum out there and this so-called entertainment district, or whether we want to build a collegiate stadium and have affordable housing there there in Halawa, which was housing in the first place,” said Abercrombie.

At stake is the school's D1 status.

UH athletics director David Matlin added that football losing its D1 status and the funding that comes with would lead to ripple effects on other programs.

The expansion and track relocation are estimated to cost $30 million, which would come from the UH budget, but the cost is expected to be offset by incoming federal money.

The state has budgeted $420 million for a new Aloha Stadium, including $350 million in general bond funding and another $50 million in general funds. However, it’s still being reviewed by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District website said it still expected the UH football team to return when the new stadium is complete.

“And it’s a dream,” said Abercrombie. “At least the Colosseum got built in Rome. This thing is never gonna get built.”

Regent Gabriel Lee voted nay on the proposal, saying more discussion is needed before signing off on the spending.

“I think everyone wants to keep the football program going,” Lee said to his fellow regents. “It’s just about making a decision. I think we should go to the NCAA and officially ask for an exemption before we make a decision.”

The project comes with an aggressive timeline with an aim to start construction in January and completed by next August.

“Getting the current complex done in the time frame they did it, at the cost they did it, unbelievable,” Nahale-a said. “Unbelievable. There may not have been another team in the state that could have done it, so I have no doubt they could deliver this project.”